A MinD in MoTown

Grappling with my blog-identity.
March 23, 2010, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Help a girl out, Just whatever, Such a quandry

I’m not the first blogger to come forward and ask her readers for help, nor will I be the last. But I’m turning to you guys – those who know this blog-version of myself – because you’re likely the best people to aid me now.

Like so many others, I’m struggling a bit with who I am as a blogger. This “identity crisis,” if you will, comes at a time where I’m actively looking to move to my own .com and create a permanent fixture in the blogosphere. I’ve been here at “A MinD in MoTown” for nearly two years, but now that I’m no longer a MoTown resident and contemplating this big blogosphere move, it’s time to discover who the blogger behind the girl truly is.

The good news in all of this is that I have no plans to quit anytime soon, as others in my shoes may have before. Rather, I’m looking for assistance in a “theme” – best word I can think of this moment – that would accurately portray who I am and what I want my blog to be. What is that exactly? Well, here’s a rundown/recap – including links to various posts – for those who may not read regularly:

I guess when it truly comes down to it, I use this little forum for a variety of things, be it my personal opinion on the Twilight series, a discussion on tattoos, or a story about my boyfriend being a turd-face. How exactly does one sum that up into an umbrella theme for a blog though?

That’s where you come in. I’m open to any and all ideas in the hopes of finding something awesome out there. I have a few ideas swirling in my brain, but nothing that’s stood out just yet.

So help me out and leave some comments – or shoot me an email (bottom left). I’m begging for your assistance here!!

McDonald’s is always an option.

Over the weekend I heard a rumor that I, personally, cannot confirm or deny. However, I’ve decided that my comments on it are almost necessary.

Not once, but twice in the past three days – and from separate parties who do not know each other, I might add – I was told that Oprah Winfrey said it was “okay” to only tip servers 10 percent due to the recession. The way this topic was approached by both individuals made it seem as if this woman – one who regularly sits high if not at the forefront of the Forbes list of yearly top money-makers – was encouraging others to cut their spending by giving less to waiters and waitresses when dining out.

Now, while I would love to discuss my feelings specifically toward this statement, the majority of what I find online notes that Oprah didn’t actually say this. And seeing as I can’t find anything – a TV clip, a news article, etc. – to prove she either did or did not say it, I kind of have to look past this one comment and hope that a woman as influential as her truly never spoke those words.

However, the rumor itself leads into an interesting yet controversial subject: The tipping of waiters and waitresses.

Although journalism is my primary source of income, I serve tables every Friday and Saturday for a few extra dollars to pay my bills and have some semblance of a social life. Thus, I am somewhat dependent on the generosity of others when making my money. So if dozens of people come in to dine and leave me a meager 10 percent each time, my wages are rather shallow for the weekend and I’m often left eating PB&J or Ramen all week. However, if I’m banking 20 percent or more per check, my wallet becomes a little more padded than I anticipated and I can sometimes treat myself to a night out with friends. But all of this depends on the guests who walk in that door.

Today’s standard for tipping is 18 percent – yep, 18. Only a few years ago, that figure was 15 percent, but times have changed and despite the current economic struggles, inflation has forced that percentage to increase. Sure, a number of people – especially older folks – are accustomed to that 15 percent as the standard and have, unfortunately, not yet wavered upward. But many people also tip more, typically 20 percent, evening out the playing field a bit.

But 10 percent? I’m sorry, but that’s practically a slap in the face to a server. It’s almost like saying, “You did a decent job, but not good enough to earn my money.” And as a waitress, my personal opinion is that if you are going to tip any less than 15 percent*, then you probably should have chosen your local McDonald’s for your meal rather than wasting the time of someone who is lucky if he/she makes $3 per hour and relies on your tip.

Recession or not, people need to not only realize but acknowledge that servers make their entire living based upon the openhandedness of others. If someone is unwilling to factor that into what they spend at a restaurant, then my opinion is that those individuals have zero right to dine out. Buy some groceries and make your own supper. Hit up a drive-thru. I don’t much care. But leave my section tables open for those people who know I’m busting my ass to do a good job and reward me for such efforts**.

It really does irk me and others in this particular field when people come in, act like everything is completely peachy keen, perhaps even express their happiness with us as a server, and yet don’t tip or leave very little cash behind. I, for one, would repeatedly ask myself, “What did I do wrong? Why couldn’t they tip me?” In 2009, do some individuals seriously not know that tipped employees earn very little money per hour and pay immense taxes on those lackluster wages? Are people actually that oblivious, or do they just believe our time and efforts are insignificant?

Either way, people cannot tip less simply because we are in a recession. Imagine the trickle-down effect that could potentially emerge as a result? Look at the number of servers across this country who would fall well below poverty levels – if they don’t already – trying to raise a family or just pay household bills with decreased wages. It’s truly unacceptable behavior to dive into the luxury (yes, it’s a luxury, not a necessity) of dining out yet punish your waiter or waitress because you didn’t really have the funds for your steak dinner. Bottom line is: Those feeling the effects of the economy should be conserving money by avoiding such lavish expenditures such as restaurant visits. If you don’t have the money for both your meal and your server’s tip, stay home.

I believe this is common sense, as many of you likely will as well. However, whether or not Oprah said the aforementioned statement, the rumor is swirling. And as a weekend waitress, I do fear that the repercussions on my wages could be felt in time.

The economic hardship this country faces has hit everyone, in one way or another, but there’s absolutely no need for it to perpetuate by penalizing wait staff simply because people still want to maintain the lifestyle they had before financial difficulties emerged. When someone tips less, it affects not just my budget, but my entire life, little by little. I only wish more people could see the results of their penny-pinching at restaurants. Perhaps then they’d truly understand.

Unfortunately, perhaps only those who have served in this occupation – or another reliant on tips – can ever really grasp the importance of the gratuity percentage.

* If you truly have a HORRIBLE experience as a result of the wait staff, then that exception needs to be considered and tipping less than 15 percent is completely understandable at this point. But if he or she didn’t spill your drink on you, ignore you entirely, speak to you rudely or something as equally dire, then your lack of tip is truly unacceptable.

Walk the plank.

I think the New York Times summed it up best when they said “When the Thrill of Blogging is Gone…” in a recent article.

To those of us who run in the same (or nearly the same) blogging circles, the disappearance of many popular bloggers is becoming more and more noticeable. Others are changing the way they blog, simplifying their techniques and sporadically posting rather than regularly providing readers with quips and banter.

The amazing Arjewtino called it quits in early April, saying he “just didn’t have it in” him anymore. At the same time, the ARW (…the almost right word) said she’d be back “at some indeterminable time,” yet few of us had heard much from her since, quite unfortunately. And most recently, SO@24 bid farewell to his loyal readers earlier this month.

And then bloggers like RS27 and Chris from Surviving Myself are reformatting their blogging methods while others – such as GoLightly’s MegKathleen, Wild ARS Chase’s Andy and Kendall from The Odd Duckling – have stepped away from their keyboards and taken “temporary” leaves from their sites, much to the dismay of readers who hope they return to the blogosphere in time.

Has blogging become our generation’s 21st century version of pogs or the Tamagotchi? Is this just another trend that us 20-somethings flock toward then swiftly ditch within a matter of months or years? Will our blogs be little more than a “phase” in our lives, just like those toys of our prepubescent days?

I’m beginning to think so, although I’d love for someone to prove me wrong.

As the aforementioned NYTimes article notes, some people seem to board the blogging ship with dreams of treasure and fame. The moment those distant hopes turn to ill-fated desires, bloggers abandon the deck and swim toward land before drowning in a sub-par-writing sea. Others remain at the hull, braving the storms and riding through, until boredom arises and life on land, away from the blogosphere oceans, seems more appealing*.

Regardless, many great bloggers are departing this Internet-world for a variety of reasons and most of us are likely wondering “who’s next?”

Will it be that blogger you check daily, soaking up every written word, wishing his or her life was your own? Will it be that person who rarely has much to say, but when he/she does, it’s extremely thought-provoking? Or could it be your favorite photo-blogger, fashion-blogger, news-blogger that says farewell? It could be me**, it could be you, it could be Joe Schmo, but someone else is bound to fall victim to blogger-death sooner than later.

And because of that, I’ve compiled a few tips for anyone who feels that demise is imminent:

  • Write for yourself. Once you start shaping your blog around the opinions and thoughts of others, the writing becomes contrived and you won’t necessarily feel as happy with the words you’ve shared.
  • Creating a blog in the hopes of it becoming a book/movie/anything else is ridiculous (really, this goes back to the first tip). The NYTimes article notes that, according to Technorati, “at any given time there are 7 million to 10 million active blogs on the Internet.” Of those, less than 100,000 have a sizeable audience. That’s a very small margin of hope in making a blog more than just ramblings on the Internet.
  • Vowing to blog every day is unwise. Personally, I think people are more likely to continue blogging if they do it when/if inspiration happens. Forcing yourself to write something each day, whether or not you have anything to say, could potentially make for less appealing postings, thus a slow demise.
  • Quality over quantity. Sure, TONS of readers are great. But sometimes, a few dedicated readers who actually enjoy your work is better than hundreds of readers who comment only because they want you to “follow” their blog, too. Don’t get bogged down or frustrated by lower-than-preferred readership (again, back to the first tip!). Just because the hoards aren’t flocking to your blog doesn’t mean what you have to say is any less interesting than someone who regularly receives 1,000 hits. Maybe that person networks better, has stirred more word of mouth or simply make his/her presence known on more blogs than you currently do. It’s a combination of factors, if you ask me.

So if you’re reading this and thinking about jumping ship, maybe I helped talk you into riding the waves a bit longer. Personally, I’m finding this an enjoyable and rather cathartic ride and I hope to keep trudging through with my 12 readers intact, ha.

What, if any, tips can we add to this list? Because really, none of us want to turn around and watch another beloved blogger disappear any time soon. Maybe, just maybe, we can prove this blogging-trend will hold out longer than our Tamagotchi digital pets did.

* I may have overdone the “pirate ship/sea” analogy just a wee bit.
** No worries, I have no plans of “peacing out” yet.

They say “you can always go home,” but what if you don’t know where that is?
May 5, 2009, 2:52 pm
Filed under: Just whatever, Scrantonia, Such a quandry

Does there come a point where “home” is no longer the place you grew up?

I’ve always considered Scranton my “home.” It’s not just my hometown, but it’s where nearly my entire family is, where I spent the vast majority of my life and where I envisioned myself visiting every year, mulitple times perhaps, for as long as I lived.

That small corner of Pennsylvania is the place where I hold more memories than I could list, from my first kiss to my first car, my first job and my first love, the bestest of friends and the worst of them at the same time. I remain defensive of that place – i.e. The Office and one SNL skit in particular (::coughcoughJoeBidencoughcough::) – and yet proud of its accomplishments, regularly reading the news that streams from “The Electric City.”

And yet, the last few weeks have made me realize the detachment that truly exists.

Without spilling paragraphs of babble onto the page, in a nutshell, my parents are moving to Mooresville, NC. Yep, my mom and step-dad (I consider them my “parents” despite my dad and step-mom) will soon be relocating their lives to the place I settled into two years ago this month.

And with that move, I foresee fewer visits to Scranton. I can already sense less of an urgency to travel the 500 miles to see those familiar faces and sites, which is unfortunate because there is truly so much I love about that place. Yet part of me knows – not just “feels,” but undoubtedly knows – that very few of those people, sans my family (so I hope), will ever make the effort to venture to NC for me. It’s sad, but true, and as a result, I can’t help but think to myself, “why should I bother making the effort for them if they wouldn’t do the same for me?”

Maybe I’m being selfish. Perhaps a little juvenile as well. But that’s sincerely how I feel about the situation. I digress…

My mom is my best friend, hands down, and with her here in addition to my step-dad and possibly my brother in another year, my reasons for traveling north diminish. If they weren’t heading to Scranton for Christmas, would I go without them? Doubtful. Would I ever drive nine-hours for a holiday if my closest family was in my own backyard? Unlikely. And with all of those thoughts, I sense a strong disconnect to that “home” and an eagerness to share this new one with my family.

Is that strange? Is this temporary? Is my stance entirely skewed toward selfishness (especially considering the majority of my family will still be in Scranton)? Or is this all a natural, yet exceptionally unfamiliar, part of venturing away from the nest, creating a new home and growing up?

Someone, somewhere coined the phrase “home is where the heart is.” Is it possible that my heart is with my mom and home will forever be wherever she is? ‘Cause right now, that seems the most fathomable deduction.

Can anyone out there explain this emotional progression to me, because clearly I’m one confused 20-something.

So you’ve chosen to wave the white flag?
April 3, 2009, 10:50 am
Filed under: News Girl, Such a quandry

Can a newspaper truly do its job without competition? Are reporters as eager to “get the story” when there are no other journalists vying for the same news? Will writers maintain the same care and concern for each word they insert into an article even though it’s the only piece that will be written about that subject?

My thoughts are “no” to all of the above, and unfortunately that’s not just what the news industry is facing as publications continue to die out, but these are the circumstances I’m afraid my paper may encounter as well.

When the Charlotte Observer cut its staff several months ago, news from my neck of the woods – 20 miles north of the Queen City’s Uptown – became less frequent despite a large number of subscribers in Mooresville. Rather than reading news specifically geared toward this region on several pages twice per week, MoTown was lumped together with all of the communities north of Charlotte and began offering less than three news items each week about our area – unless something big occurred, of course. So as the Observer’s staff dwindled due to layoffs and buyouts, so did our competition for news in this town.

And now, the only other newspaper published in town has called it quits. The weekly Lake Norman Times* has two issues left before it ceases publication on April 15, leaving my Mooresville Tribune with practically no competition for local news. In my opinion, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Sure, more people may have to scrounge up the 75 cents for our publication if they have any desire for MoTown information, but will our – I suppose I really mean “mine” as I’m currently our only full-time staff reporter – writing and eagerness to attain the news suffer? Although I know my personal work ethic is to rarely never settle for something subpar, I also know the race to get the story provides that extra push, that additional motivation I occasionally need to get off my ass, find the right sources, get the best comments and submit that story as soon as possible. Will and can that drive remain when, in the back of my mind, I know I’m the only one out there searching for the information?

I hope it does because I believe a certain passion radiates from a news item that took a little more footwork. But it’s not just me facing this issue; it’s a plethora of papers across the country who are watching their competitors slowly wither away and become little more than archival material. And as a result, it’s my fear that the news will navigate away from interesting and noteworthy to tedious and lackluster, and then what hope do publications have of fighting to exist?

Perhaps this is just another problem stemming from the demise of the news business, or maybe it’s simply a symptom causing the downward spiral. But it’s my opinion that competition fosters first-class news and its loss may have quite the negative effect on an industry already in dire straights.

* I interviewed with this newspaper about two months before I got the Tribune job. They clearly didn’t offer me the position, and now that they’re shutting their doors, I’m pretty damn happy about that.